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Feature

Daniel Vallera in his lab

University researcher Daniel Vallera is looking for treatment alternatives to chemotherapy and radiation for blood cancer patients.

New treatment for blood cancer

From eNews, August 5, 2004

Research cures cancer, reads the button on Daniel Vallera's labcoat. For more than two years, Vallera, a professor in the Department of Therapeutic Radiology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, has been investigating a new treatment for blood cancer. This treatment--radioimmunotherapy--works by directing specifically engineered antibodies to deliver tiny but effective doses of radiation directly to cancer cells. As the treatment enters Phase I trials this year, Vallera and his colleagues are optimistic that it will be an effective alternative to the more traditional therapies. While chemotherapy and radiation treatment can target tumors, they are imprecise and may damage healthy and malignant tissue alike, resulting in unpleasant and painful side effects. Similarly, externally administered beam radiation treatment can harm surrounding tissues despite a physician's best attempts to focus the beam. "A more precise, selective treatment is urgently needed," says Vallera. "This [new treatment] has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of people who suffer from leukemia and lymphoma." Tiny but powerful In radioimmunotherapy, an immunotoxin--a hybrid molecule formed by coupling an antibody molecule to a toxin--is injected into the patient. The antibody locks onto a signature protein the cancerous cells express and delivers the toxic dose to the cancer cells. Because the treatment is precision-guided, adverse effects to the rest of the body are minimized. Preliminary results with the new drug are extremely promising--completely eradicating the human cancer cells grafted to mice. Often, research labs are forced to seek outside resources when searching for a suitable antibody to couple with a toxin, thereby entering the complex world of drug patent law. In this case, however, the new drug is truly "homegrown" at the University of Minnesota. Keith Skubitz in the Department of Medicine, isolated AHN-12, the specific antibody used to create the drug Vallera and his colleagues are working with for this immunotoxin. Moving forward Vallera's research has benefited from the generosity of private donors and several grants from the Minnesota Medical Foundation. "Without private dollars, this type of research would have been much more difficult, if not impossible to pursue," he says, since most National Institutes of Health funding supports "hypothesis-driven" basic research. (Vallera's therapy is considered an applied science.) "This is an exciting time to be a part of the fight against leukemia and lymphoma," Vallera says, "because the opportunity to create something that will make people's lives better has never been greater." To learn more about cancer-related research at the University of Minnesota, see the Cancer Center at www.cancer.umn.edu. For information about giving to the Minnesota Medical Foundation, see www.mmf.umn.edu

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